After having traversed the territory of the United States for five years while working on American Power – in his quest to shed light on the interaction between energy production and consumption, between industrial corporatism and its devastating consequences on the environment – Mitch Epstein decided to use his city, New York, to compose a black-and-white ode to nature. The trees he has photographed, whether having unfurled wildly or grown carefully pruned, are a living memory of the city of New York, the testimony to the symbiotic relation linking the city’s inhabitants with their trees. In the manner of Eugène Atget, who photographed the trees of Paris at the beginning of the 20th century, Mitch Epstein’s photographs individualize the vegetal element, underlining its exceptional character. A good number of these trees, which stand majestically today, came to New York as souvenirs or diplomatic gifts. Despite the urban development that has been slowly encroaching on them, they keep growing. New York, a welcoming but harsh city, is characterized by very great diversity of its population with immigrant backgrounds. These portraits of trees are thus simultaneously metaphors and monuments. Featuring in the foreground, these extracts of the city’s setting are inscribed in the photographs as actors of urban life – New York, city of trees. ‘The more I photographed trees in the city, the more I saw the city as an arbor; society and architecture became secondary to nature. I began to invert the usual human-centric view of urban space, so that trees became the city’s central characters’. (Mitch Epstein).
In the text accompanying his images, Epstein refers notably to Hungarian writer and photographer, Péter Nádas. After a brush with death following a cardiac arrest, Nádas wrote Own Death, which he illustrated with photographs he took of the hundred-year old pear tree in his garden as it passed through the rhythm of the seasons. Then, in 2005, Robert Adams published Turning Back, a book of photography that tolls the requiem of ecocide resulting from the deforestation of the United States’ North West. New York Arbor, then, is Mitch Epstein’s attempt at a vigorous reply both to American Power and to the work by Robert Adams. Inspired by Nádas’ work, interpellated by the sadness and beauty apparent in Adams’ images, Mitch Epstein’s New York Arbor composes a veritable ode to passing time, an ode to life.
The exhibition has been organized in cooperation with the Galerie Thomas Zander in Cologne. It comprises a series of 42 black-and-white photographs that are presented here for the first time by Fondation A Stichting and has been timed to coincide with the publication of Mitch Epstein’s New York Arbor by Steidl publishers.